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Career Development - ResumÉs -Cover Letters

Guidelines for Writing and Formatting

Cover letters are designed to introduce you, your skills and your experiences.  They should be brief, professional and positive.  You should carefully compose each individual letter to deliver a personalized message to the recipient. 

Writing ~ Formatting ~ Examples of Cover Letters
Guidelines for Writing Cover Letters

A cover letter should accompany each resume.  The cover letter should sum up what you have to offer and serve as an introduction to your resume.  The following guidelines will help when writing a cover letter:

  • Keep the length of the letter to one page.
  • Avoid fancy fonts and colors.  Use business fonts such as Arial and Time New Roman.  No color.  Black on white reproduces easily.  Use plain white paper.  Print your cover letter and resume on a laser printer.  DeskJet printer ink smudges.
  • Spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes are out of the question!  Cover letters are a reflection of your writing skills, so make each cover letter an example of your work.
  • Address the cover letter to the person who can hire you.  Be sure the name is spelled correctly and the title is correct.  Address the person as “Mr., Ms., Miss, Dr., Professor.” Avoid using such general salutations as Dear Sir or Madam, To Whom It May Concern, Dear Administrator, Dear Prospective Employer and Dear Committee.
  • Have a strong positive opening statement that is personalized to catch the recipient’s interest.  State why you are interested in the position.
  • Summarize your most important skills and experiences.  Select one or two specific accomplishments in your experience that are particularly relevant to the position, and draw attention to them in your letter.
  • Maintain the initiative by stating that you will call to see whether an interview can be arranged and thank them for considering you.
  • Ensure your file name for your cover letter also includes your proper name and submit it with your resume according to instructions which may require submitting one document rather than two separate documents.
  • Do not use contractions (I’d, didn’t, it’s).  Avoid using too many sentences that start with “I” or writing in the passive voice (example, “This experience enabled me to…..” or “Through my internship, I was responsible for…”); instead, make yourself the subject of each sentence and use active descriptions (example, “In this internship, I demonstrated sound judgment and problem-solving skills on a daily basis.”).
  • Research the company and specifics about the position so that you can tailor your cover letter to the needs of the organization.
Guidelines for Formatting Cover Letters
Sender address and contact information

Note: Contact information appears at the TOP of a hard copy cover letter.
For e-mail cover letter, contact information appears BELOW printed name. see below

Your address and the date can be left-justified or centered.

Your Street Address
City, State Zip Code
Telephone Number
E-mail Address
Month, Day, Year

Mr./Ms./Dr. First Name Last Name
Name of Organization
Street or P. O. Box Address
City, State Zip Code

Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Last Name:

Opening Paragraph:

State why you are writing; how you learned of the organization or position, and basic information about yourself.

2nd Paragraph:

Tell why you are interested in the employer or type of work the employer does (Simply stating that you are interested does not tell why, and can sound like a form letter). Demonstrate that you know enough about the employer or position to relate your background to the employer or position. Mention specific qualifications which make you a good fit for the employer’s needs. (Focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.) This is an opportunity to explain in more detail relevant items in your resume. Refer to the fact that your resume is enclosed. Mention other enclosures if such are required to apply for a position.

3rd Paragraph:

Indicate that you would like the opportunity to interview for a position or to talk with the employer to learn more about their opportunities or hiring plans. State what you will do to follow up, such as telephone the employer within two weeks. If you will be in the employer’s location and could offer to schedule a visit, indicate when. State that you would be glad to provide the employer with any additional information needed. Thank the employer for her/his consideration.


1. Your handwritten signature (on hard copy)

2. Your name typed (for e-mailed cover letter and resume)

3. Enclosure(s) (refers to resume, etc.)

Note: The contents of your letter might best be arranged into four paragraphs. Consider what you need to say and use good writing style.

Cover Letters - Four Examples (pdf)


Next: Following up after an interview